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Eat This Riverside: Is this backyard birria shack the best restaurant in Riverside?

In today’s column Seth makes the case that En La Birria is the best restaurant in Riverside even though it’s barely a restaurant and it’s not even in Riverside.

En La Birria is located in the backyard of 4311 Byrne Rd.

The not-so-secret weapon in any food writer’s research arsenal is Google Maps. I habitually spend hours scrolling the landscape on my iPhone’s Google Maps app, looking for promising restaurants with four stars or more. Any errand or driving obligation becomes a treasure hunt. I have to chauffeur my son to a speed-cubing competition in Rancho Penasquitos? No problem - I’ll spend the first two hours prowling Google Maps for farmers' markets and lunch options and the next two hours devouring perfect strawberries from the market at Chino Farm and sweet and sour spicy sisig from the steam table at Lumpia House in Poway.

So, when I found myself on this stretch of Byrne Road a few years ago, picking up some dumbbells for my teenager from a Facebook Marketplace seller, I was ready when my research companion Google Maps alerted me to the fact that there was a Birrieria directly next door - En La Birria. I saw no trace of the restaurant from the street, but when I asked the dumbbell seller about it, he recommended it without a moment’s hesitation - “Oh yeah, that place is great, but you’ve gotta get there early - they always run out.”

Happily, it was early enough because En La Birria is magnificent. They are specialists, hyper-focused on a few variations of birria - they serve little else other than stewed beef and goat in rich red consomme rojoBirria de res is made with beef; birria de chivo, with goat. The best of the birrias they offer is not available every day, and when it is available, it is available starting at 11:30 until supplies run out shortly thereafter - the birria de chivo tatemada is made with goat that’s roasted to a burnished finish before being braised, which gives the final product a rich smoky complexity, reminiscent of the charred bark on a Texas-style BBQ brisket.

The menu board and check-in table.

I know I’ve referred to other restaurants I’ve reviewed in this space before as “informal.” En La Birria gives informal new meaning. There is no signage on the street, no hint from the front of the lot that there’s a restaurant there at all, except for the tantalizing smell of roasted meat and griddled tortillas that sometimes wafts into the street.

Yes, there’s a restaurant there, just past the main house.

To get there, wind down the driveway, past the main house, and pull in. There’s space for about a dozen cars to park along the fences that separate En La Birria from the neighboring backlots.

The restaurant itself (as well as the kitchen) is in a dilapidated open-air shed in the backyard of this suburban home. The seating is rickety folding chairs, and the tables are set with paper napkins and plastic tablecloths. Climate control is provided by a few oscillating fans. The soundtrack is a wandering guitarist accompanying himself while singing corridos. The staff speaks little English but provides welcoming, warm, and speedy service.

The shed.

Check-in and place your order with the co-owner Maria at the table at the entrance - you can choose which type of birria you’d like and whether to order it “con jugo,” i.e. in a bowl of broth or “sin jugo” - just meat on a plate. You can also opt to take your birria in taco or quesadilla form. The “rojo” consomme is also served on its own by the cup or bowl. I go for the birria de chivo bowl with broth - it’s a rich, murky concoction, deep red with chili, slicked with fat and deeply flavored, with tender shreds of goat, a Michoacana pot-roast par excellence.

Take a number and grab a table. The waitstaff will replenish a tupperware with cilantro and onion and make sure that you’ve got a few limes and napkins and that your salsa squeeze bottle (“not too hot”) and a glass jar of salsa macha (“mas hot”) are amply supplied. The salsa macha is an oily inferno of a hot sauce - dried chilies and spices in a slick of mahogany-tinted fat. I can only take a little at a time before my sinuses rebel. But if you are a chili-head, it’s phenomenal.

A few minutes later, your birria will arrive, accompanied by a stream of fresh tortillas, piping hot off the griddle - the waitresses bring basket after basket as you use up your tortillas. The tortillas are impeccable - light and pliable, with beautiful corn aroma and deeply colored spots from their contact with the comal. Fish out a hunk of meat from the bowl and assemble your own taco - or just dig in with a spoon and keep on digging until the bowl is clean.

Don’t skip the plain quesadillas either - they’re the epitome of simple pleasure, fresh tortillas crisped on the griddle with lacey grilled cheese edges.

It’s hard to communicate just how delicious the birria at En La Birria is. If you’ve only had the bowdlerized versions on sale at Del Taco or even the more authentic versions at the local birria trucks, then En La Birria’s stew will be a revelation. Or maybe it’s just the whole unexpected delight of it - the pleasure of finding a hidden treasure on a scavenger hunt, the frisson of uncovering hidden gustatory delights, the feeling of having stepped through a portal into rural Michoacan and having sat down at a family table for a real taste of Mexico.

The staff at En La Birria.

En La Birria is open on Saturday and Sunday only, from 7:30 a.m. until the birria runs out, usually sometime around 1 or 2 p.m. It’s located in the backyard of 4311 Byrne Rd, just off the Valley Way exit of the 60. Although birria is the focus, menudo is also available, as are tamales (while supplies last). If you get there in time, don’t miss the birria de chivo tatemada - it’s best in class. They offer cans of soda and bottles of water; plenty of diners bring their own cans of beer. En La Birria accepts payment in cash or via Zelle, don’t forget to bring a few bucks to tip the tortilleras.

What do you say, Gazette readers? Have you found birria that touched your soul elsewhere in Riverside? Am I nuts to prefer a backyard open air shed to Riverside’s finer dining options?  Let me know with an email to the tip line: